Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454

Rosemary’s Baby is typical of Ira Levin’s writing in that it achieves its effects not by showcasing shocking passages of graphic horror but rather through the gradual accumulation of subtle details, many of which acquire ironic overtones in retrospect. Early in the story, for example, Rosemary compliments Guy’s talent for...

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Rosemary’s Baby is typical of Ira Levin’s writing in that it achieves its effects not by showcasing shocking passages of graphic horror but rather through the gradual accumulation of subtle details, many of which acquire ironic overtones in retrospect. Early in the story, for example, Rosemary compliments Guy’s talent for lying, never guessing how he will use this skill against her. Later Rosemary is impressed when Dr. Sapirstein takes such a personal interest in her welfare and pleased that such an experienced doctor can show such excitement about a pregnancy. Such details, which acquire new, sinister overtones in the light of the story’s conclusion, make a second reading of the book especially rewarding.

Levin lulls readers into a false sense of security by deliberately playing against their expectations. After setting up the Bramford as a variation of the classic “old dark house,” Levin introduces characters who are innocuous, even comical. These include overweight Minnie, who wears lime green pants, and Laura-Louise, who bakes gingerbread and crochets, both of whom are as far from the popular conception of witches as possible. Telling the story from Rosemary’s point of view, Levin maintains suspense by inviting readers to question Rosemary’s perceptions, even her sanity.

The themes of paranoia and victimization found in Rosemary’s Baby represent a heightening and intensification of plot elements found in Levin’s first novel, A Kiss Before Dying (1953), which concerns a remorseless young man whose determined attempts to marry into a wealthy family are punctuated by multiple murders. Levin’s plays Veronica’s Room (1974) and Deathtrap (1979) similarly draw their terror from violations of trust, bizarre and convoluted conspiracies, and innocent victims caught in horrific situations that are beyond their comprehension, much less their control. This Perfect Day (1970) is a science-fiction novel depicting a future dystopian society. Science-fiction elements are also found in The Stepford Wives (1972), a feminist parable in which suburban housewives are duplicated and replaced by automatons, the better to please their domineering husbands. The Boys from Brazil (1976) also extends into science fiction, describing a plot to genetically create a new Adolf Hitler. In Sliver (1991), Levin returns to the confined space of a high-rise apartment building, depicting the ultimate invasion of privacy: Hidden cameras and microphones capture the tenants’ lives in harrowing detail. That book was made into a film of the same name in 1993.

An extremely faithful film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby was directed in 1968 by Roman Polanski. The novel and film were the start of a trend toward satanic horror in the fantasy literature of the 1970’s, a movement that included books such as William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971; filmed with the same title in 1973) and films such as The Omen (1976).

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